Carroll County Times

Editorial: Symbolic show of empathy

President Barack Obama's decision to give back 5 percent of his pay as a gesture of solidarity toward federal workers who face furloughs is largely symbolic, but it is something that most members of our do-nothing Congress would never consider even as they wring their hands over government spending and the need for cuts.

Five percent of Obama's $400,000 salary amounts to $20,000. Given that the president spent most his campaign for a second term saying that the rich should pay more in taxes, making the gesture also shows that he is willing to do more than just talk about everyone paying their fair share. Still, there is little comparison between 5 percent of $400,000 and 5 percent of someone making less than $100,000 - in many instances far less than $100,000 - and who depends on their income to pay their monthly bills.

The sequester that came about because of the inability of Congress to come to a real deal on budget cuts is going to negatively impact federal workers across many different agencies.

At the Department of Defense, new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he too would take a pay cut equal to the 14 furlough days that department employees are being told they will have to take off before the end of the fiscal year due to the budget cuts.

We are in this position because Congress repeatedly has failed to come to any sort of agreement about ways to increase revenues and curb government spending. Their lack of ability to do the nation's business - work we hired them to do when we put them in office - is a disgrace and is a large contributing factor to the perpetual low ratings they get in public opinion polls. Yet with rare exceptions, you don't see too many senators or representatives volunteering to give back a portion of their pay.

In essence, they created a mess and then thrust the cost of that mess onto us.

Obama's and Hagel's decision to give back a portion of their pay isn't going to impact them in any way close to how two weeks of furloughs is going to impact federal employees. It does, however, show that they at least have an understanding of the consequences of their actions, or inactions.

Most members of Congress, by contrast, do not demonstrate that same understanding. They operate in ways that indicate they have no clue as to how their actions impact average Americans. Perhaps if their pay was tied to their performance they would act a little differently. But until that happens, nothing will change. Is it any wonder why Americans in general have such a low opinion of this bunch?